Massive human rights abuses in Kosovo and the NATO bombing that ensued, renewal of Russia's military campaign against Chechnya, and the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in Central Asia were the dominant themes in the region during 1999. In a long-awaited move, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) indicted Slobodan Milosevic, along with three senior Serbian officials and a Yugoslav Army officer, for crimes against humanity in Kosovo. Six others indicted for war crimes were arrested, five in Bosnia by the NATO-led Stabilization Force and one by Austrian police in Austria.
After months of internal armed conflict in Kosovo that had already left over 2,000 civilians dead and hundreds of thousands displaced, in September 1998 and early 1999, the Yugoslav and Serbian forces committed several particularly brutal crimes against ethnic Albanian civilians that ultimately forced the international community to act. The media images of mutilated and executed ethnic Albanian civilians that flashed around the world sent a shock wave of recognition and generated intense pressure on the governments of Western Europe and the United States to respond in a more effective and timely manner than had been the case in Bosnia.
On March 24, 1999, after the collapse of peace negotiations in February in Rambouillet, France, NATO began its bombing campaign against Serbia. Political leaders, if not NATO commanders, seemed initially to believe that it would only take a few days of air strikes to bring Milosevic back to the negotiating table. Instead, Milosevic defied NATO, intensified his military campaign in the province, and began the systematic "ethnic cleansing" of the province. Over the course of the next seventy-eight days, Serbian and Yugoslav forces committed widespread atrocities, including summary executions and massacres
of civilians, beatings, rape, destruction of civilian property, and massive displacement. Over 800,000 people were expelled from the province and as many as 10,000 people were believed to have been arbitrarily executed, although the precise number was still unknown.
Milosevic apparently expected that the members of NATO would not be able to maintain a united front over an extended period of time and that pressure would build to stop the bombing. But this time, Milosevic miscalculated. Although there were severe tensions among NATO member states regarding the bombing of Yugoslavia, as well as growing discomfort at the strained relations with Russia and China caused by NATO's campaign, the NATO leadership remained remarkably steadfast over the course of the three-month bombing campaign. Ultimately, NATO bombing, combined with diplomatic efforts, brought an end to the "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo and a withdrawal of Yugoslav and Serbian troops there. The NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) entered Kosovo on June 12, almost one million refugees began returning to their homes, and the United Nations assumed governance of the province until a future Kosova government could be elected.
While the NATO strategy ultimately succeeded in bringing an end to atrocities against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, touting the NATO response as the paradigm for dealing with future human rights crises was controversial among many in the human rights community and was likely to be a source of debate for years to come.
Those looking to the handling of the Kosovo crisis as a blueprint for a future human rights-oriented foreign policy would do well to start with a study of what the U.S. and its allies failed to do over the preceding ten years that might have prevented the need for military intervention. Not only did the international community utterly fail to devise any strategy to end the repression in Kosovo over the years leading up to the outbreak of armed conflict in Kosovo, but, in deference to Milosevic, it agreed not to place issues related to Kosovo on the agenda during the Dayton peace negotiations.
Instead, the international community opted to treat Milosevic as a peacemaker and its legitimate interlocutor in the region and failed to arrest Milosevic's cohorts in Bosnia-Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic-creating an unmistakable environment of impunity. (See The Role of the International Community - United States, below). Once the armed conflict erupted in Kosovo, the United States and West European governments repeatedly threatened economic and other sanctions against Yugoslavia, and NATO threatened military action for months. But these threats were rarely credible and were quickly withdrawn or forgotten at the slightest promise of restraint by the Yugoslav leaders.
While the West procrastinated, Milosevic prepared for the massive "ethnic cleansing" campaign launched by the Yugoslav army and Serbian police on March 19. It was only then that NATO finally reacted in earnest. Given the international community's failure to take early steps to prevent the crisis in Kosovo, some international human rights activists felt great discomfort that the NATO bombing was then carried out in the name of human rights. For some in the human rights community, the debate centered around whether military force could ever be an appropriate means to address human rights abuses and, if so, under what circumstances. There was a consensus that states have an obligation to prevent or stop genocide, but there was serious disagreement about whether military intervention-which may produce its own human rights victims-was an appropriate response and even more disagreement about whether human rights groups should ever advocate such a response.
This debate only intensified as NATO bombs killed a growing number of civilians in Serbia proper. An estimated 600 Serb civilians were killed during the war, and total reconstruction costs could well reach U.S. $34 billion. In addition, the conflict produced other negative side effects that were antithetical to human right progress: the seventy-eight-day bombing campaign revived cold war tensions and increased anti-Western sentiment in Russia and elsewhere, tested the commitment of the recently admitted NATO member states, threatened to undermine the fragile peace in Bosnia, as well as in neighboring Albania and Macedonia (although it ultimately did not do so), jeopardized nascent democratic opposition in Serbia itself, and created divisions among human rights activists around the world about the universal applicability of human rights standards.
Human Rights Watch's policy is to call for the use of military force if it considered it the only reasonable measure that could prevent or stop genocide or genocide-like mass killings. But the organization also insists that all military action, regardless of its stated humanitarian purpose, has to be carried out in compliance with international humanitarian standards, and that those who violate such standards must be held accountable.
NATO's strategic decision to rely almost exclusively upon massive aerial bombardment to force Serbia to withdraw from Kosovo was also troubling. By deciding to fly only at high altitudes, at least in part to protect NATO pilots, while offering no immediate protection to the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo, NATO appeared, at least in the short term, to be turning the priorities of humanitarian law-the protection of civilians-on its head.
Moreover, there appeared to be no consensus among international actors as to what humanitarian intervention actually meant and no clear parameters as to which circumstances warranted or required a military response. The Kosovo conflict presented a double challenge to the international human rights community: to preserve humanitarian intervention as a possible response to prevent or end the worst human rights crises, while ensuring that such interventions, no matter how appropriate or necessary, were carried out in a responsible and accountable manner. If humanitarian intervention was to be a response grounded in human rights protection, it should be applied in a consistent manner worldwide and not only in those places of geopolitical interest to the U.S. and its allies. What is more, clear parameters were necessary in order to prevent human rights violations from becoming a pretext, or being perceived as a pretext, for interventions motivated firstly by geopolitical or other interests.
As Kosovo so dramatically underscored, when human rights abuses are allowed to fester for years, peace, stability, and regional security are inevitably threatened. The international community's appeasement of abusive leaders and willingness to turn a blind eye to deteriorating human rights concerns in the Balkans guaranteed that over time such abuses would increase and become more severe. It also ensured that the international community would ultimately be required to invest much greater financial, military, and other resources in the region to end the fighting and facilitate reconstruction. Furthermore, at this point, the importance of accountability for human rights abuses as an essential component of any security plan should be beyond dispute. Yet the failure to arrest Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, or to indict Milosevic years ago for abuses committed by forces under his command in Croatia and Bosnia, only perpetuated the environment of impunity that led ultimately to the atrocities in Kosovo.
The Balkans could have taught many important human rights lessons, if only the international community were prepared to learn. However, as 1999 came to an end, the international community appeared poised to repeat its mistakes in other areas of the region such as Central Asia and the northern Caucasus, where human rights violations had reached crisis proportions, but an international response grounded in strong human rights protections remained lacking.
Throughout Central Asia and the Caucasus, governments joined forces during the year in what they portrayed as a fight against Islamic fundamentalism. Following the February bombings of government buildings in Tashkent, the Uzbek government accelerated its crackdown on independent political and religious groups. Thousands of men were believed to have been detained, although no independent monitors were granted access to detention centers. During the year, the government tortured detainees to coerce confessions; denied detainees access to legal counsel and a fair trial; prosecuted criminal defendants in what were clearly show trials; threatened, beat, and arrested human rights defenders; and discriminated against "independent" Muslims, or those who practice Islam beyond the parameters of government-controlled mosques. In August, the Kyrgyz army, backed by Uzbek warplanes, began an attack on armed militants-reportedly members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan-in southern Kyrgyzstan. The conflict, which as of this writing had produced a number of civilian casualties and over 5,000 displaced persons, threatened to destabilize the entire region as both Uzbek and Kyrgyz military conducted air strikes in neighboring Tajikistan.
While the governments of the region had legitimate security concerns, their response was thoroughly disproportionate to any threat that had been presented, and the conduct of the authorities-the widespread planting of evidence, torture of suspects, the absence of fair trials, and the denial of defendants' basic due process rights-did not seem intended to identify true criminal suspects. The fact that the governments of the region targeted peaceful political, religious, and ethnic groups and persecuted independent human rights monitors raised suspicion that the "threat of terrorism" was primarily a pretext for silencing potential government opposition.
Yet despite the backtracking on human rights protections throughout the region, the U.S. government and the European Union squandered economic and diplomatic leverage, granting lucrative trade benefits to the countries of the region. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe-the regional body most active in Central Asia-paid lip service to human rights, but increasingly pursued a policy largely devoid of a human rights strategy, seeking instead to focus its efforts on economic development, the environment, and security-uncontroversial issues that were of interest to the governments of Central Asia.
In a similar vein, when Russia renewed its war in Chechnya, the past failures of Western policy toward that country again came into focus. During the 1994-1996 war in Chechnya, western governments and intergovernmental institutions, eager to support President Boris Yeltsin in his 1996 reelection campaign, granted Russia key financial and diplomatic benefits without requiring a corresponding commitment from Russia to hold its military and political leaders accountable for the abuses committed during the war; justice and accountability simply were not on the agenda. When Russia began air strikes over Chechnya in September, the international community, having been complicit in creating a climate of impunity for Russian military abuses following the previous Chechen war, could faint be heard.
Not surprisingly, civilians quickly became this new war's worst casualties. Within weeks, hundreds were reported dead, the victims of indiscriminate bombings. About 180,000 people fled their homes to Ingushetia and Dagestan, fearing a repeat of the devastation that took between 80,000 and 100,000 civilian lives in 1994-1996. Flouting international and domestic law protecting freedom of movement for Russian citizens, Russian authorities banned internally displaced persons in Ingushetia, one of Russia's most impoverished regions, from traveling to other cities in Russia for which they did not have internal residence permits.
Prior to the start of the war in Chechnya, a series of explosions that the Russian government blamed on Chechens had claimed at least 300 lives in Russia. In response, the Moscow city government rounded up over 20,000 people with the darker skin typical of natives of the Caucasus region. Although the government justified these as extraordinary security measures, the harassment, detention, extortion, and mistreatment of "blacks" had long been standard practice in Moscow. Ethnic minorities were also detained and mistreated in Kyrgyzstan where, in response to the crisis brewing in southern Kyrgyzstan, police in Bishkek and Jala-Abad rounded up hundreds of ethnic Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Afghans.
In addition to the difficulties faced by the 180,000 Chechens who were displaced by the fighting in Chechnya, other conflicts produced significant displacement and threats to international refugee protection standards. By mid-March, when NATO air strikes began against Serbia, more than 450,000 had already been displaced by the fighting in Kosovo. The world was stunned by the speed and brutality with which Yugoslav forces carried out their "ethnic cleansing" campaign in April and May, during which over 800,000 people were systematically forced into neighboring Albania, Macedonia, and the Yugoslav Republic of Montenegro.
The international community was not prepared for the large numbers of refugees who flooded across the borders, and its initial response was slow and inadequate. Resources in neighboring countries were also severely strained by the crisis. Despite poverty and only minimal infrastructure in the north of Albania, the Albanian government and people valiantly responded to the Kosovar Albanians who sought refuge in the country. In Macedonia, however, ethnic Albanians were not so welcome. The government repeatedly closed its border to fleeing Kosovar Albanians, leaving them stranded in the no-man's land between borders or pushing them back into areas of Kosovo where they were at great risk. Once they arrived in Macedonia, refugees faced hostility, discrimination, and police abuse. Thousands of refugees were involuntarily deported from Macedonia to third countries, in many cases separated from their families, deprived of information about their destination or rights, and denied the benefit of registration or monitoring by UNHCR or other refugee assistance organizations. Although western governments were initially reluctant to offer protection to Kosovo refugees, hoping instead that they would be cared for in the region, they ultimately agreed to accept quotas of refugees in order to reduce the potentially destabilizing strain on Macedonia.
The crisis in Kyrgyzstan also produced an estimated 5,000-7,500 displaced persons who, as of this writing, remained in government-established camps. In Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, governments also failed to provide the protection for refugees required by international law.
Throughout the former Yugoslavia, many war refugees and displaced persons continued to live in limbo, unable to return to their pre-war homes or facing difficult obstacles to rebuilding their lives if they did return. For the second year in a row, the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Hercegovina (OHR) designated 1999 as the "year of return," but the number of minority returns was far less than foreseen by OHR. Ethnically motivated violence continued against those who tried to go back to their pre-war homes, as did economic and housing discrimination. The process was further complicated when more than 50,000 refugees fled from Yugoslavia to Bosnia during the NATO bombing campaign. Most international staff were also pulled out of Republika Srpska (RS) during this period because of an increase in anti-western sentiment, further undermining the security situation for returnees. Under intense pressure from the international community, the RS finally adopted housing legislation that removed some of the most egregious impediments to the return of refugees and displaced persons.
Similarly, in Croatia, ethnic Serbs who were displaced by the war continued to face severe obstacles to return. Despite government promises to facilitate the process, Serbs found it difficult to obtain the identity documents necessary for them to return to their homes and reclaim their property. Although courts continued to evict displaced Serbs who had been occupying Croat homes, there was no parallel effort to remove Croat occupants from the homes of ethnic Serbs and no effort to provide homeless Serbs with alternative accommodations. Discrimination without hope of redress in housing and employment, as well as an increase in violence against ethnic Serbs in some parts of the country, were further impediments to return.
There was much unfinished business related to strengthening human rights protection in post-conflict areas. In Tajikistan, the peace process moved forward during 1999, but there was no corresponding reduction in the level of political or criminal violence, or a host of abuses related to abusive or corrupt law enforcement and judicial officers. Similarly, in the period leading up to presidential elections in late 1999 and parliamentary elections scheduled for early 2000, the Tajik government took numerous steps to impede the activities of political parties and the media. In an effort to obstruct the registration of opposition presidential candidates, the Supreme Court granted registration to one of the candidates just two weeks before the planned elections.
Optimism faded in Northern Ireland as implementation of the Good Friday agreement was stalled by disagreement over the disarmament of paramilitary groups. An independent commission established to address issues of police reform-a key element of building confidence in any peace-time police body-failed to recommend a screening process for police or other steps that would guarantee accountability for past abuses.
Justice for past abuses is clearly an essential requirement for a secure and lasting peace in any post-conflict area, but the region presented a mixed record in holding perpetrators accountable. The indictment of Slobodan Milosevic on May 26-the first sitting head of state to be indicted for crimes against humanity-along with three senior Serbian officials and a Yugoslav Army official, was a welcome and long awaited development. Similarly, the arrest by SFOR of six persons indicted for war crimes, five in Bosnia and one in Austria, and the extradition of another indictee by the Croatia government were positive steps forward. Nevertheless, as of this writing, thirty-two publicly indicted persons remained at large, most notably Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.
The capture and trial of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), and the PKK's announcement that it intended to institute a unilateral ceasefire in southeastern Turkey raised hope that the fifteen-year conflict might finally be brought to an end. However, while the Turkish authorities pursued the prosecution of Ocalan, it took no steps to initiate an equally thorough and impartial investigation into abuses by its own troops during the war in the southeast.
Despite the Turkish army's recent military victories over the PKK and the capture of Ocalan, there was no indication that the Turkish government would seize this opportunity to lessen the conflict by guaranteeing Kurds' basic cultural or political rights, the denial of which had fueled the conflict. In practice and in law, there were still severe limitations on the use of the Kurdish language, while political parties with a large Kurdish membership were subjected to police raids and closed down, Kurdish voters and candidates were harassed prior to the April elections, and numerous Kurdish politicians were sitting in prison for their peaceful expression and political activity.
Turkey also continued to persecute Islamists, refusing in April to allow a newly elected deputy of the Islamic Virtue Party to take her parliamentary oath while wearing her head scarf, taking legal steps to ban the party, broadening regulations that prohibit students, civil servants, and others from wearing head scarves on government premises, and punishing those who protested against these regulations.
Torture and police abuse were routine in the region, especially during security crises. Torture was endemic to much of the region's criminal justice systems and was used in the investigation of crimes ranging from petty theft to murder. Torture methods included sustained and repeated beatings, painful suspension of body parts, asphyxiation, sexual abuse, and electric shock. Several factors facilitated torture: impunity for torturers, poor protection for defendants' rights in national legal systems, the lack of an independent judiciary, and corrupt law enforcement agencies. Deaths in custody due to torture were reported in Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Georgia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan during 1999.
While torture was most frequent during the first hours of detention in police custody, there were also numerous reports of physical and psychological ill-treatment in the region's prisons. Repeated beatings and other forms of ill-treatment by prison guards were reported inKazakhstan and Tajikistan, and an inhumane isolation regime continued to be used in Turkey. In Turkey, ten inmates were killed and many others injured when Turkish gendarmerie apparently used excessive force to put down unrest in the Ankara Closed Prison on September 26. In Azerbaijan, a prison revolt in Gobestan ended in the deaths of eleven prisoners who were reportedly shot by officials of the Ministry of Interior.
States' practices related to the death penalty varied widely in the region. As of September, twenty-nine people were known to have been executed during the year in Belarus. Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan announced a moratorium on the death penalty in 1999, and capital punishment was abolished in Bulgaria and the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina. Although Turkey had not executed a prisoner since 1984, in June, PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was convicted of treason and sentenced to death.
Although there were numerous elections in the region during 1999, a number of governments used the lead-up to elections to impose highly restrictive measures on anyone perceived as a potential political opponent. In Kazakhstan, suddenly called presidential elections in January were a gross perversion of a democratic political process, with the government obstructing the formation, registration, and activities of groups intending to support opposition candidates or to participate as monitors. In Georgia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, restrictions on the press, assembly, and association increased dramatically in the pre-electoral period. In Belarus, "alternative" elections to protest President Lukashenka's extension of his term in office were dealt with brutally. Turkmenistan's parliamentary elections scheduled for December are expected to be an empty exercise because the Turkmen government had comprehensively deprived its citizens of all basic political freedoms, incarcerated its political opponents, banned nascent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and permitted no media activity that did not support the government. In the lead-up to presidential elections in 1999 and parliamentary elections scheduled for early 2000, the government of Tajikistan tried to obstruct the legitimate activities of political parties and attempted further to restrict the independent media.
Throughout the region, journalists were threatened, beaten, detained, and even killed during the year. Those reporting on corruption and other government misconduct were particularly at risk. In Russia, the Glasnost Foundation reported that it had documented fifty-four attacks, threats, or robberies of journalists between January and August, including the murder of eight journalists. In Serbia, an editor who had been critical of the Milosevic government was assassinated in April.
Writers and journalists throughout the region faced criminal prosecution for the peaceful expression of their views. For example, Nadire Mater, who wrote Mehmet's Book-Soldiers who have Fought in the Southeast Tell Their Stories was charged with "insulting the armed forces. " Her trial in the Istanbul State Security Court started on September 29. Others were subjected to a variety of financial measures such as fines and tax audits aimed at forcing their closure. There was no independent local media whatsoever in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Journalists also continued to be prosecuted under criminal libel statutes in many countries in the region, including in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Romania, Russia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. The international community suspended the criminal libel statute in Bosnia. Governments in Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan took steps during the year to restrict access to the internet.
Roma continued to face systematic discrimination and mistreatment throughout the region. In Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, and Slovakia, reports of police brutality, including excessive force leading to injury and death, and racist verbal abuse against Roma were disturbingly common. Roma also were the targets of neo-Nazi and skinhead violence that was frequently fatal. Whether the perpetrators were police or private citizens, Roma faced enormous obstacles in obtaining redress for crimes against them. In Kosovo, dozens of Roma suspected of siding with the Serbs were robbed, beaten, abducted, detained, and as many as thirty-five were killed or "disappeared" after Serbian and Yugoslav forces withdrew from the province.
Religious groups, especially "non-traditional" groups that operated outside the confines of government control, continued to face discrimination and harassment in a number of countries in the region, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Such groups were often denied legal registration, making them vulnerable to police harassment, extortion, and other abuses. Members of religious groups were detained, their prayer services disrupted by police, their homes searched without warrant, their religious publications and pamphlets confiscated, and some were threatened with dismissal from their jobs. In August, a Baptist minister in Turkmenistan was sentenced to four years of imprisonment allegedly for financial misconduct; his sentence was believed to have been motivated by his religious activities. Anti-Semitic violence and attacks on synagogues increased in Russia during the year. In Uzbekistan, the release of five imprisoned Christians was clearly timed to occur prior to the publication of the U.S. government's first annual report on religious freedom. Conscientious objectors, often members of persecuted religious groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, sometimes faced severe beatings and lengthy prison terms when they refused military service, particularly in Armenia, and even in countries such as Azerbaijan and Bulgaria where the law provided for alternative service.
Discrimination and police abuse against gay men and lesbians was reported in Romania, where an unknown number of people remained in prison for private, consensual sex with someone of the same sex.
Throughout the region, women faced rampant discrimination and violence. During the conflict in Kosovo, women suffered rape and other sexual abuse, and some also reported being forcibly taken from refugee camps in Albania and trafficked into prostitution. Trafficking of women into prostitution was widespread and often possible because of government complicity, if not direct involvement. The criminal justice system often provided little support or protection, but instead created obstacles, for any woman trying to report rape or domestic violence; sometimes these bodies were blatantly hostile toward the victim.
To date, thirty-nine of the fifty-three countries of Europe and Central Asia have signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty and twenty-nine have ratified. FRY and Russia continued to produce landmines. There were also allegations that Turkey still produced landmines, but these were denied by the government. None in the region are believed to export landmines. Anti-personnel mines were used by both the Yugoslav military and the KLA during the Kosovo conflict, and in southeastern Turkey by the government and the PKK. Georgian partisans used landmines in Abkhazia, and there were unconfirmed reports that rebels in Tajikistan used landmines during 1999.
Defending Human Rights
The development of civil society depends on transparency and adherence to the rule of law. Local human rights defenders play a crucial role in this process by exposing the abusive conduct of governments and promoting accountability. They often provide a critical lifeline between victims of government abuse and the rest of society, where offering assistance and support for those who are most vulnerable. Because of the important role they played, because they often threaten to expose abusive governments, and because they challenge the notion that states' sovereignty was absolute, a growing number of human rights defenders were themselves victims of abuse during 1999. Three prominent human rights activists were killed in Europe during the year. Others were beaten or imprisoned. Most were victims of direct government harassment, but some were targeted by paramilitary groups.
Human rights activists were a target of violence and intimidation during the conflict in Kosovo. Human rights lawyer Bajram Kelmendi, along with his two sons, was killed by Serbian police on May 6. Other activists in Kosovo were detained or imprisoned during the year, and many were ultimately forced to flee the province. Human rights activists in Serbia and Montenegro were also under extreme pressure and subject to police harassment during 1999; groups such as the Humanitarian Law Center and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia took great risks in reporting on the atrocities being committed in Kosovo.
Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova, a prominent human rights activist and outspoken critic of government corruption in Russia, was brutally murdered in late 1998. As of this writing, her murderer had not been identified and the motive for her death remained unknown. Other human rights activists in the country also faced administrative harassment, such as cumbersome re-registration requirements, that were clearly intended to impede their work.
Rosemary Nelson, a highly respected human rights lawyer in Northern Ireland, died from a car bomb on March 15. The Red Hand Defenders, a loyalist paramilitary group, claimed responsibility. Ms. Nelson had long been harassed and threatened with death or physical harm by officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).
The government of Uzbekistan launched a wholesale attack against human rights defenders in 1999, seeking to intimidate activists and prevent international scrutiny of its disastrous human rights record. Activists were brutally beaten, detained, sentenced to long prison terms on spurious charges, and impeded in their activities. Mikhail Ardzinov, chairman of the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan (IHROU) suffered broken ribs, bruised kidneys, and a concussion from a brutal beating on June 25 by officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Ismoil Adylov and Mahbuba Kasymova, both members of IHROU, were sentenced to prison terms of six and five years respectively following sham trials on politically motivated charges. Akhmadhon Turakhonov, also a member of IHROU, died in prison in June after being deprived of adequate medical care.
Human rights activists in Turkey were also the target of widespread government harassment, ill-treatment, and criminal prosecution during the year. The regional offices of several organizations were closed indefinitely. Akin Birdal, president of the Human Rights Association (HRA), began serving his one-year prison term on June 3 for having referred to "the Kurdish people" in a speech he gave in 1996. His sentence was suspended on health grounds in September, shortly before Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit met with President Clinton in Washington, D.C. On September 28, however, as Ecevit met with President Clinton, HRA members were among one hundred people detained and mistreated at a public meeting in Istanbul, followed the next day by a raid on HRA's Istanbul office and the violent arrest of one of its board members, Saban Dayanan.
Turkmenistan remained so repressive that no local human rights organization was able to operate in the country, and even international monitors were obstructed in their efforts to document abuse. During a fact-finding mission to Turkmenistan in February, a Human Rights Watch representative was taken from his hotel room in the middle of the night and deported from the country, allegedly for distributing a human rights publication. The government took steps to intimidate persons it believed would be contacted by Human Rights Watch during the mission and threatened them not to speak to the delegation. Those who did meet with the organization were summoned for interrogation by the security forces.
Human rights defenders in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan also faced harassment and a variety of government-created impediments to their legitimate activities during the year.
The Role of the International Community
In June 1999, the United Nations (U.N.) took on its unprecedented peace implementation mission in Kosovo where, pending a final political settlement of the status of the province, the U.N. is tasked with all aspects of civilian administration; developing provisional local government institutions; conducting elections; overseeing reconstruction of infrastructure and the economy; maintaining civil law and order by deploying an international police force as well as establishing a replacement local force; protecting and promoting human rights; and ensuring the safe return of refugees. Delayed deployment of U.N. police throughout the summer months left a security vacuum that facilitated a continued cycle of violence, with Kosovo Albanians committing revenge attacks that forced over 200,000 Serbs and Roma to flee Kosovo.
The UNHCR's response to the mass influx of Kosovar Albanian refugees into Macedonia was initially slow and poorly coordinated since the organization was unprepared for such a large and sudden exodus. The emergency response improved greatly within a few weeks, but was difficult to coordinate due to the participation of NATO and the rapid proliferation of nongovernmental organizations. As of October, UNHCR was conducting an independent review of its emergency response in both Macedonia and Albania.
Although it devoted insufficient attention to war crimes being committed in Kosovo throughout most of 1998, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) finally committed to a full-scale investigation in early 1999, leading to the May indictment of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The indictment, though welcome, might have had a greater deterrent effect had it come earlier. Moreover, because its timing coincided with the NATO bombing campaign, it created the inaccurate impression that the tribunal was politically motivated, especially because the Milosevic indictment was based only on abuses committed in Kosovo, neglecting Milosevic's alleged responsibility for humanitarian law violations committed in Bosnia and Croatia between 1991 and 1995. Also welcome in 1999 was the tribunal's long awaited public outreach campaign aimed at fulfilling its mandate of promoting peace and stability by educating the citizens of the countries that make up the former Yugoslavia about its work.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
Expectations of the role of the OSCE in promoting human rights were raised in early 1999, with Norway promising to put human rights at the top of the agenda during its yearlong chairmanship of the organization. In January, the OSCE made the principled decision to signal its disapproval of Kazakhstan's flawed electoral process by sending only a scaled-back assessment mission to observe presidential elections. The OSCE's Kosovo Verification Mission conducted an immediate and thorough investigation of the January 15 massacre of innocent civilians in Racak, publicly reported its findings, and stood firm in the face of intense criticism from the Yugoslav government in response. In addition, the OSCE mission to Croatia notably improved its work by issuing more critical external reporting and streamlining its internal reporting procedures.
These high points were unfortunately overshadowed by the OSCE's poor handling of the worsening human rights situation in Central Asia. Following on the December 1998 Ministerial Council Decision on Central Asia, the chairman-in-office appointed Wilhelm Hoynck as his special representative to develop a plan for strengthened and coordinated OSCE engagement in Central Asia, but Ambassador Hoynck's July report was a disappointment. The report was issued at a time when Uzbek human rights activists were facing increased harassment and abuse, when the Turkmen government was refusing to agree to any OSCE human dimension activities in the country, and when Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan were all preparing for what appeared would be seriously flawed elections in late 1999 and early 2000. Yet the Hoynck report made only scant reference to these conditions and completely omitted discussion of a strategy for the OSCE to address them. OSCE officials defended the report, claiming that it was not intended to be a public accounting of human rights problems in the region, but rather to outline a comprehensive strategy to demonstrate OSCE commitment to the region. To undertake such a communication, without addressing the serious human rights situation in the region, risks signaling that these countries can benefit from OSCE membership and enhanced engagement and integration, without being held accountable for their failure to implement their OSCE human dimension commitments.
Council of Europe
In the first year since its restructuring, the European Court of Human Rights struggled under the pressure of a growing caseload, with more new cases filed in the first half of 1999 than in all of 1998. The year also saw an indication of a worrisome increase in state defiance of the court's binding judgments.
The strain on the court and its authority was troubling as its jurisdiction extended to new signatory states with seriously defective human rights records and neither the political will nor the rule of law culture necessary to implement the court's decisions. This included Georgia, which gained admittance in April, but repealed important legal reforms only one month after gaining membership. This threat to Council of Europe standards was compounded by pressure for premature admission of applicant states, especially Bosnia and Hercegovina, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In May, the Parliamentary Assembly, in consultation with the Office of the High Representative, identified eight conditions for admission to the Council of Europe that Bosnia could and should meet by September. In September, one of the Parliamentary Assembly's rapporteurs, Swiss parliamentarian Peter Bloetzer, reported that the eight conditions had not been met but recommended nonetheless that the Council of Europe prioritize only four of those conditions. Arguing that Council of Europe admission would help solidify the Serb, Muslim, and Croat confederation, Bloetzer pressed for admission of Bosnia as early as January 2000, notwithstanding the fact that the Bosnian authorities had persistently demonstrated limited political will to live by Council of Europe norms. Meanwhile, applications for admission remained pending for Armenia and Azerbaijan, with Council of Europe officials suggesting they might be admitted in 2000 because the two countries could not be made to wait forever, not because they had demonstrated any particular commitment to implementing Council of Europe principles.
In a potentially valuable contribution to the promotion of human rights throughout the Council of Europe region, in May the Committee of Ministers established the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, mandated to promote education and awareness of human rights, facilitate the activities of national ombudsmen or similar institutions, identify possible shortcomings in law and practice of member states, and provide assistance to remedy those shortcomings. In September, Professor Alvaro Gil-Robles of Spain was elected to fill the post. At this writing, it was too early to tell whether the commissioner would reach the full potential of his mandate.
In May, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Recommendation 1408 calling on member states, inter alia, to ratify as soon as possible the statute of the ICC adopted in Rome on July 17, 1998 and to adopt domestic legislation enabling them to cooperate with the court.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Failed diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo forced a U.S.-led NATO response that ultimately brought peace to the region. NATO's conduct, however, violated international humanitarian law in several instances. (See section on the U.S. government, below) After the conflict ended, the NATO-led KFOR force had responsibility for military aspects of the peace implementation. In the early weeks of the peacekeeping mission, KFOR failed to adjust effectively to its quasi-policing role in order to protect ethnic Serb and Roma minorities from reprisal attacks and prevent their mass exodus from the province.
The Kosovo intervention occurred against the backdrop of NATO's continued effort to reinvent itself as a post-Cold War institution. March witnessed the first round of its expansion, with Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joining the alliance. In April, the heads of state of NATO members convened in Washington to celebrate the organization's fiftieth anniversary, adopt a Membership Action Plan for countries wishing to join, approve an enhanced relationship with countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union participating in the Partnership for Peace, and launch a new "Defence Capabilities Initiative," aimed at improving alliance preparedness for Kosovo-type situations in the future. The Summit declaration committed member states and the alliance "to defend our people, our territory and our liberty, founded on democracy, human rights and the rule of law."
The human rights component of the European Union's (E.U.) relations with the countries of Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the newly independent states repeatedly gave way in 1999 to competing political and economic interests. First, in exchange for their support of the NATO attacks on Serbia, the E.U. developed for the countries of southeastern Europe a new "Stabilization and Association Process," as part of the E.U.-led international Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe. Particularly for Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Albania, and Macedonia, the new process held out the promise of substantially enhanced trade and assistance benefits, while seeming to downplay the political criteria contained in the E.U.'s prior "regional approach" to relations with those countries. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was excluded from the Stability Pact and the E.U.'s Stabilization and Association Process pending its fulfillment of the international community's conditions on Kosovo, as well as progress on democratization and treatment of minorities. In addition, the European Union imposed strict sanctions on Yugoslavia, including an oil embargo, a visa ban on Milosevic, his family and associates, an asset freeze on overseas funds of the Yugoslav and Serb governments as well as Milosevic, his family and allies, and an investment ban. Efforts were made to exclude Kosovo and Montenegro from the impact of these sanctions and to ensure that they benefit from the Stability Pact.
In a similar vein, at this writing it seemed likely that by the end of the year the E.U. would extend its expansion process to include up to twelve Eastern European applicant states in active negotiation for accession, and also extend official candidate status to Turkey. Particularly in the cases of Slovakia and Turkey, this possibility represented a significant shift away from a previous policy barring such negotiations for, at least in part, human rights reasons. At this writing, it was too early to tell whether the E.U. would effectively use the advancing accession process with these countries to engage them on human rights issues.
Finally, the E.U. and its member states ratified Partnership and Cooperation Agreements with Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, opening the way for substantially enhanced trade and assistance benefits for these countries. E.U. officials vowed to address human rights in the context of the new relationships created under the agreements, which specify respect for human rights as a binding condition. While human rights concerns were reportedly discussed in the first Cooperation Council ministerial meetings convened to implement the agreements, these concerns did not appear to have any significant impact on the nature and level of E.U. assistance to these countries.
The European Union took the leading role in promoting ratification of the treaty for the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The U.S.-led forceful NATO response to the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo by Yugoslav and Serb security forces came only after years of appeasement of the destructive and abusive Milosevic regime. Repeated missteps in U.S. policy in the Balkans led to the standoff in March. In 1995, the U.S. chose Milosevic to act as its trusted negotiating partner and guarantor of the Bosnian peace, ignoring allegations of his role as the mastermind behind Bosnia's "ethnic cleansing." Further, U.S. negotiators accommodated Milosevic by leaving problems in Kosovo off the table during the Bosnia peace negotiations. Moreover, as the violence in Kosovo escalated throughout 1998, the U.S. government continued to negotiate with Milosevic, repeatedly threatening sanctions and other penalties only to withdraw the threats at the slightest Serb concession. This approach-together with the international community's failure to arrest indicted Bosnian Serb leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic-could only be interpreted by Milosevic to mean that he would face no repercussions for his escalating campaign of repression in Kosovo. While the West dithered, Milosevic prepared for the thorough "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo carried out from March to June 1999; and conditions for the Kosovo Albanians deteriorated to the point that the U.S. and its allies felt compelled to respond with military force, which itself brought considerable destruction and, in some instances, civilian casualties in violation of the laws of war.
Promotion of the trans-Caspian and Baku-Ceyhan pipelines (avoiding transit through either Russia or Iran) dominated U.S. policy toward the Caucasus and Central Asia, at the expense of any meaningful action on human rights. The nature of U.S. policy toward the region was illustrated in August when a court in Turkmenistan sentenced opposition figure Pirguli Tangrikuliev to eight years of imprisonment on trumped-up charges during the same week that U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson visited the country. In Washington, the U.S. government issued a public condemnation of the sentencing, but in Ashgabat, Richardson's high-profile visit and his release of the final tranche of U.S. financing for a feasibility study of the trans-Caspian pipeline spoke louder than words.
U.S. government officials continued to call for much needed reform in Turkey, but at critical times they appeared to lack conviction in this policy. Too often US officials seemed still ready to accept short-term half-measures and assurances of future reform, notwithstanding a long history of empty promises from the Turkish government. During his July visit to Turkey, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Harold Koh spoke out forthrightly on the most serious problems, prompting considerable controversy and introspection regarding human rights conditions in the country. Unfortunately, President Clinton failed to drive home the message when he met with Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit in September, and the administration appeared to back away from conditionality on arms transfers to Turkey, including conditions on the pending sale of 145 attack helicopters to which then-Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz and President Clinton agreed in December 1997. In addition, having supported Turkey in its apprehension and trial of the leader of the Kurdish Workers' Party, Abdullah Ocalan, the administration then failed to press aggressively for fair trial safeguards. As of this writing, it was as yet unclear whether the U.S. government would make effective use of the November Istanbul summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as a forum for promoting meaningful change in Turkey.
The Work of Human Rights Watch
During the Kosovo conflict in 1999, the Europe and Central Asia (ECA) division mounted our largest ever emergency response to a crisis. We also worked persistently to raise the profile of abuses in Central Asia and the Caucasus, intensified our advocacy efforts in the Council of Europe and the OSCE, and focused substantial resources to expose the chronic problems of police brutality and torture in several countries in the region. In Bosnia, Northern Ireland, and Tajikistan, as well as in Kosovo during the latter half of the year, we also focused on the myriad problems -protecting vulnerable populations in times of transition, rebuilding civil society institutions, forming accountable criminal justice and order-keeping bodies, and creating the conditions for free and fair elections-that confront many post-conflict societies.
The crisis in Kosovo was a top priority for Human Rights Watch during the year. We devoted significant resources during late 1998 and early 1999 to our ongoing efforts to document and expose war crimes in the province committed by Yugoslav and Serbian forces, as well as by the Kosovo Liberation Army. In early 1999, we released two reports demonstrating that the forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians was not an unintentional consequence of war, but a deliberate and deadly strategy pursued by Serbian police and Yugoslav army troops. A Week of Terror in Drenica , released in February, documented grave violations of international humanitarian law, including summary executions, massacres, and the destruction of civilian property by Serbian and Yugoslav forces in Kosovo's Drenica region during September 1998. Report on the Massacre in Racak , released in January, presented evidence of killings and other atrocities in that Kosovar village that had taken place earlier that month. During the unsuccessful Rambouillet negotiations in February our staff used both reports, in English and in French translation, to urge that human rights be at the center of the proposed peace agreement.
When the negotiations at Rambouillet foundered and the NATO bombing campaign began in Yugoslavia at the end of March, the ECA division deployed researchers to both the Albanian and Macedonian borders with Kosovo, where hundreds of thousands of refugees were fleeing. For the duration of the crisis, ECA staff carried out hundreds of interviews with victims of and eyewitnesses to summary executions, massacres, beatings, forced expulsions, and other atrocities, summarizing their findings in regular "Kosovo Human Rights Flashes." We worked closely with representatives of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, presenting our documentation in five of the six incidents that ultimately formed the basis for the indictment of Milosevic. Special attention was also paid to the Macedonian government's treatment of Kosovar Albanian refugees, and a number of statements and a letter to the government were issued in this regard.
We also closely monitored NATO's actions during the campaign and sent letters to NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and to the members of the U.N. Security Council, urging the alliance to comply with international humanitarian law. In June, we issued NATO's Use of Cluster Munitions, condemning the use of cluster bombs by NATO forces in Kosovo, and we sent a three-person delegation to Serbia in September to conduct an on-site investigation into possible NATO humanitarian law violations. It was our second mission to Serbia in 1999; in January, a researcher investigated the Serbian government's restrictions of academic freedom.
After the NATO bombing ended and the Kosovar refugees began to return home, we shifted our efforts to exposing revenge violence by ethnic Albanians against the remaining Kosovar Serbs and Roma. Our researchers on the ground also continued to gather evidence to corroborate accounts of war crimes and crimes against humanity that refugees had reported when they were first interviewed in Albania and Macedonia. In July, we released "Ethnic Cleansing" in Glogovac Municipality, documenting war crimes that were perpetrated by Serbian and Yugoslav forces during the period between March 19, when the Kosovo Verification Mission withdrew from Kosovo in the lead-up to the NATO bombing campaign, and June 15, when Serbian and Yugoslav forces withdrew from the region.
We published Abuses Against Serbs and Roma in Kosovo in August, exposing the growing level of revenge killings, beatings, and other abuses against ethnic Serbs, Roma, and others perceived as having supported the Serbian regime in the province, and we made a series of recommendations to international bodies. We also urged the international actors in Kosovo, including the U.N. and the OSCE, to pay attention to our human rights concerns in post-conflict Kosovo.
In Bosnia, we concentrated our efforts on assessing that country's compliance with the conditions set for membership by the Council of Europe. In a briefing paper for Council of Europe officials we outlined serious deficiencies in the application of international human rights standards and the rule of law throughout the country that fell far short of the Council's standards for member states. We conducted advocacy in Strasbourg during the January, June, and September Parliamentary Assembly sessions to deliver the same message to Council of Europe rapporteurs, Parliamentary Assembly committee members, and other Council staff.
In Croatia, we focused on the treatment of ethnic Serbs, as well as the work of international bodies that have particular leverage in the country. In March, we released Second Class Citizens: The Serbs of Croatia at a press conference in Zagreb and presented the findings of the report to the Croatian government representatives, as well as to representatives of the international community. We also conducted an October mission to examine political rights in the context of forthcoming parliamentary elections. We continued an ongoing dialogue with the OSCE regarding the work of its mission and with the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Monitoring Committee regarding Croatia's lack of progress toward meeting its commitments as a member of that institution.
In our work on Russia, we established three priorities: exposing the widespread use of torture and working with the Moscow Helsinki Group to train groups throughout Russia's regions to document cases of torture; ongoing advocacy work to expose and address the horrific conditions and ill-treatment of children in Russia's orphanages; and documenting abuses related to the renewed conflict in Chechnya. In addition to completing a two-year project documenting torture in Russia's criminal justice system, our staff briefed the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture on our findings and raised torture concerns during interventions at the OSCE Review Conference meetings in Vienna in September and Istanbul in October.
In early 1999 we liaised with U.S. government officials to highlight the need for support to programs that provided abandoned or disabled children with viable alternatives to institutionalization in orphanages. In May, we published the Russian-language version of the Abandoned to the State orphanages report. Our Moscow staff raised our concerns about orphanages, torture, and police harassment and brutality against ethnic minorities during a meeting with U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson during her trip to Russia in June.
We quickly made Chechnya a new priority when Russian forces began aerial bombardments of the region in September. In a variety of fora-a statement to UNHCR's Executive Committee, a letter to Prime Minister Putin, a letter to the E.U. Presidency, and in several press releases-we criticized Russian conduct of the military campaign and the government's abhorrent response to the new refugee crisis. We also sought to provide some historical context to the conflict, reminding the public and government officials that during the 1994-1996 war in Chechnya, the international community essentially showered benefits on the Yeltsin government but failed to make good use of its leverage with the government to seek more responsible conduct in the conflict.
Similarly, when Moscow police began rounding up and expelling thousands of non-Muscovites presumed to be from the Caucasus, we immediately began interviewing those who had been arrested. We issued three press flashes on the arrests, and addressed many public fora on the issue, again pointing out the historical context and past Human Rights Watch reports that had documented, since 1993, Moscow's racist policing.
Throughout the year, we continued to concentrate our efforts on exposing the government of Belarus's harassment and intimidation of all forms of opposition. At a July 15 press conference in Minsk, we released a report on violations of academic freedom in Belarus, which documented a systematic campaign by the government to chill academic enquiry through overly restrictive institutional controls, de facto censorship of politically sensitive historical research, obstruction of the private educational initiatives, and harassment, dismissals, and expulsions of politically active faculty and students. Our staff also presented the findings of the report to Ministry of Education representatives, university rectors, and others. In March, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution "On the Situation in Belarus," which incorporated a number of our recommendations, in particular on freedom of the media, access to the media by opposition politicians, and concern that restrictions on freedom of the media in and of itself preclude the holding of free and fair elections. Similarly, the Council's advisory group on a new Law on Higher Education incorporated a number of our recommendations on the deeply flawed law, including inserting safeguards on freedom of speech, association, and assembly. In September, we wrote an open letter to President Lukashenka urging him to investigate the disappearance of leading opposition figures Victor Gonchar, Tamara Vinnikova, Yury Zakharenka, and independent publisher Anatoly Krasovsky and to guarantee the safety of all persons in Belarus, regardless of their political affiliations.
With field offices based in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and numerous advocacy and fact-finding missions to the region, the countries of Central Asia were a growing focus of our work in 1999. This was in response to the dire human rights situation, the growing geopolitical importance of the region, and the expansion of the OSCE's presence in Central Asia.
As the government of Uzbekistan continued its brutal assault on the basic rights of its citizens, Human Rights Watch intensified both its research and advocacy work in the country during 1999. We sent two fact-finding missions to investigate cases of torture in late 1998 and 1999, monitored dozens of trials, and gathered testimony from scores of witnesses about the unyielding government campaign against independent Muslims and people affiliated with the political opposition. Our representatives were also on hand to document the government's vigorous and brutal campaign against local human rights defenders who were jailed, beaten, and otherwise harassed. In response to the rapid deterioration in rights protection, Human Rights Watch issued a series of press releases and letters to the government decrying the brutal treatment of rights defenders and providing horrifying accounts of torture and deaths in detention at the hands of security forces and police. We regularly briefed international organizations and governments active in Uzbekistan, including the Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe in an October hearing on Uzbekistan. In October, we released Class Dismissed:Discriminatory Expulsions of Muslim Students documenting the discriminatory expulsion of independent Muslim students from universities and schools for wearing religious attire or beards.
During 1999, Human Rights Watch's Dushanbe office monitored the implementation of the peace accord in Tajikistan and the pre-election and elections period. We urged governments and donor bodies with an interest in Tajikistan to condition economic and non-humanitarian aid on improvements in human rights conditions and to support the development of local human rights initiatives. We issued a report on media restrictions, raised violations of freedom of association and expression, and discussed the judiciary, refugee, and security-related concerns with diplomatic missions in Dushanbe, Tashkent, and Almaty, and with the government and international organizations in Dushanbe, particularly OSCE and United Nations Mission on Tajikistan (UNMOT). We monitored violations committed by security forces; intervened regularly before the General Procuracy and Ministries of Internal Affairs and Security on behalf of individuals who had experienced human rights violations; and briefed multilateral organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and journalists on the current situation in the country. We also actively supported local human rights and journalists' organizations.
Our work on Turkmenistan remained focused on several key goals during 1999: to make the government's appalling human rights record part of the mainstream agenda in all fora for investment and security issues, to use leverage to secure improvements, to ensure that the government did not benefit from investment and credit funds that have human rights conditionality without making human rights concessions, and to engage the government directly on human rights.
A February 1999 mission by our research staff was to have been our first mission to the country since 1993. Throughout 1998, we attempted to reestablish contact with Turkmen government officials, who were plainly irritated by our efforts to make human rights part of the overall debate on Turkmenistan. In February, this standoff ended when meetings between Human Rights Watch representatives and senior members of the Turkmen government took place in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. The meeting took place during our first research mission to in the country in six years. The mission had a broad agenda, including gathering information on torture; on the stifling of what little opportunity remained for local NGOs to exercise free association and expression; and on political prisoners. The mission, however, was interrupted when Turkmen security forces summarily deported one of the mission participants. Following the February trip to Ashgabat, a Human Rights Watch representative addressed a meeting of the heads of all OSCE field missions in Oslo, Norway, where she discussed developments in Central Asia with the relevant heads of OSCE missions and urged a strong condemnation of the Turkmen government's treatment of our staff. A short trip to Vienna followed, where she raised similar issues with OSCE delegations.
In December 1998, we launched our first-ever fact-finding mission to Kazakhstan to investigate violations of basic civic freedoms in the run-up to the presidential elections. We interviewed dozens of journalists, editors, publicists, political activists, and citizens pressured by the government to participate in the presidential nomination process. A report on our findings was released in October, on the eve of Kazakhstan's parliamentary elections. In July, as part of our effort to convey to policy makers the true state of human rights in Kazakhstan, our staff addressed the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.
Our concerns in Central Asia featured prominently in our international advocacy during the year, targeted toward the U.S. government and the OSCE, two of the most prominent political actors in the region. As the chairman-in-office and the head of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights prepared for their respective trips to the region, we sent briefing papers about issues and specific urgent cases. We used the report to the OSCE Permanent Council by Ambassador Wilhelm Hoynck-a document that was to have set out the OSCE's policy in the region-as an opportunity to analyze OSCE strategy. Our critique of the report was released prior to Hoynck's presentation to the Permanent Council, and we liaised with key OSCE delegations to ensure that the human dimension would remain in the OSCE's strategy for the region.
Twice in 1999, we exhorted the OSCE to desist from sending full observer missions to Kazakhstan's elections. In December 1998, fresh from our mission to Kazakhstan investigating election conditions, we sent a letter on our preliminary findings to OSCE Chairman-in-Office Vollebaek urging the OSCE not to send an observer mission of any kind to the elections, which were clearly fraudulent. In August, we wrote to Ambassador Gerard Stoudmann, the head ODIHR, urging the OSCE not to send a full observer mission to Kazakhstan's parliamentary elections. In this and other fora-notably the OSCE review conference-we sent a clear message that any observation of upcoming elections in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan would merely serve to legitimize what were sure to be hollow exercises.
In all meetings with U.S. government officials regarding Turkmenistan, we pressed the need to condition Export-Import bank credits and other assistance on significant improvements in that country's human rights record.
In the Caucasus, our research was conducted from our field office in Tbilisi, and focused primarily on abuses by police and security forces and on the lack of adequate legal protections for detainees. Our primary advocacy target was the Council of Europe, to which both Armenia and Azerbaijan keenly sought admission, though we also regularly briefed representatives of the OSCE, E.U., and U.S. government, in advance of significant bilateral and multilateral meetings on the region. A European Parliament resolution adopted in February, drafted after consultation with our staff, emphasized the need for further improvements in the human rights practices of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Human Rights Watch engaged in a dialogue with the government of Armenia regarding its human rights record and issued a number of lengthy letters, documenting our concerns on issues such as the abuse of conscripts; torture and beatings of detainees, including children; poor conditions in places of detention; and restrictions on freedom of religion and the media. The letters were timed to correspond with activities in the Council of Europe related to Armenia's membership application. The letters, some published in their entirety in Yerevan newspapers, were widely read and sparked more open discussion of Armenia's poor human rights record. In January, we briefed key U.S. congressional staff on our concerns given the significant amount of economic assistance provided to Armenia by the U.S. despite the lack of any significant improvement in its respect for the rule of law.
Similarly, we focused attention on Azerbaijan's poor human rights record as part of its application for membership in the Council of Europe. Prior to the sessions of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, letters were sent to rapporteurs on Armenia and Azerbaijan and other relevant policymakers outlining our concerns. Our staff attended the Parliamentary Assembly sessions in January, June, and September and carried out a series of advocacy meetings with rapporteurs, committee members, and delegations involved in the decision-making on Armenia's and Azerbaijan's applications. In August, we issued Impunity for Torture, which documents how the Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs often keeps detainees in a state of isolation from the outside world, including from lawyers and relatives, allowing torture to take place in virtual secrecy. Advance copies of the report were distributed in June at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly session in Strasbourg. The report was also distributed to the United Nations Committee Against Torture.
In January, we briefed congressional staff on the links between corruption, human rights violations, and oil investment in Azerbaijan, and we also distributed briefing papers to the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the U.S. government, European governments, and oil companies. The U.S. House of Representatives version of the legislation promoting increased U.S. engagement and investment in the Caucasus and Central Asia, adopted in August and known as the Silk Road Strategy Act, contained significant language emphasizing the need for respect for the rule of law and religious tolerance in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
In Georgia, we monitored numerous trials including that of those accused in the February 1998 assassination attempt on Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze; many defendants claimed that they had not had access to lawyers since their detentions. As Georgia's already poor human rights practices deteriorated in advance of the October parliamentary elections, we monitored numerous other trials relating to physical abuse and to restrictions on non-traditional religious organizations.
In April, we sent a letter to President Shevardnadze of Georgia detailing police abuse, specifically the pattern of deaths involving detainees who had suspiciously fallen from windows while in the custody of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. We called on Shevardnadze to ensure thorough and impartial investigation into such deaths. A similar letter was also sent to U.S. Ambassador Yalowitz urging that human rights abuses -specifically widespread police abuse and impunity for that abuse -be featured prominently in the promotion of U.S. interests in Georgia. We urged Ambassador Yalowitz publicly to condemn police abuse in Georgia, to call for an independent investigation into the death of Ivane Kolbaya (who fell to his death from a fifth-floor window of Tbilisi Central Police Department), and to support the development of the criminal justice system's capacity to combat police abuse. Additional letters on the same theme were sent to the OSCE, the U.S. Congress, the Council of Europe, embassies, and international financial institutions. These concerns elicited no public condemnation from the U.S., but in September, USAID sent a team to identify and plan future work on Georgia's criminal justice system and other aspects of the legal system.
Throughout the year we sought opportunities to make contact with and brief representatives of multinational corporations, especially oil companies investing in the Caspian sea region. Our goal was to promote awareness of the serious human rights problems affecting their investments and to encourage them to take proactive steps-in their relations with governments, intergovernmental organizations, international financial institutions, and nongovernmental organizations-to address these conditions.
A significant focus of our work on Turkey during 1999 related to the capture and trial of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). When Ocalan was first arrested in Italy in November 1998, we called on the Italian government not to extradite Ocalan to Turkey because of that country's well-documented record of torturing security suspects, but to ensure that Ocalan be held accountable for the abuses committed by PKK guerrillas under his command. When Ocalan fled Italy and was later captured and transported to Turkey, Human Rights Watch pressed the Turkish government to safeguard Ocalan's safety and take all steps to ensure that he received a fair trial. We also used the increased international attention to Turkey to highlight the need for an equally thorough investigation of abuses committed by the Turkish army in the southeast. Prior to the start of Ocalan's trial, we issued two background papers on the Turkish State Security Courts and Repression of the Kurds in Turkey. In May, our staff attended the trial.
We also continued to press for greater protection of the basic rights of expression and association, rights that are chronically violated in Turkey. On April 15, we released Violation of Free Expression in Turkey and did a round of follow-up letters to Congress and to the OSCE Special Representative on Media regarding the findings in our report. In June, we condemned the imprisonment of leading Turkish activist Akin Birdal, president of the Human Rights Association of Turkey, as a violation of his free speech. Throughout the year we pressed the U.S. government to use its special relationship with Turkey to promote change, especially in the context of a possible $3.5 billion sale of U.S.-manufactured attack helicopters to Turkey. We also took advantage of Turkey's role as host of the November OSCE summit to press for significant change.
Immediately following the murder of human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson in March, Human Rights Watch joined with other human rights organizations to draw attention to Ms. Nelson's death and the broader issues of protection of defense lawyers and intimidation by police in Northern Ireland. During the U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva in mid-April, Human Rights Watch co-hosted a talk with Param Cumaraswamy, the U.N. special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, who had been a strong critic of the U.K.'s lack of protection for Ms. Nelson and other defense lawyers in Northern Ireland. Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to Mo Mowlam, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as part of a dialogue that included a number of face-to-face meetings with her on the subject. We published a limited-run short report on Ms. Nelson's life, urging the U.K. government to establish an independent murder investigation, free of participation by the Northern Ireland police, whose officers had systematically harassed Nelson in recent years. The protection of defense lawyers was but one issue of concern we raised with the Independent Commission on Policing, established by the Good Friday agreement and mandated to make sweeping recommendations for the reform of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), Northern Ireland's police force. We made a number of written submissions to the commission, including a detailed briefing paper on vetting the RUC to screen out officers with records of past human rights abuses from a peacetime police force. Human Rights Watch attended meetings with the commission in January and September to express our concerns about police abuse. In July, we sent a researcher to monitor the security force operation during the annual, often violent, marching season in Northern Ireland. We sent numerous letters to U.K. Secretary for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam and British Prime Minister Tony Blair throughout the year urging them to implement the human rights provisions of the Good Friday agreement and highlighting particularly the continuing lack of accountability for police officers involved in the torture of detainees and collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in the murder of defense lawyer Patrick Finucane in 1989.
ALBANIAHuman Rights Developments
The rapid influx of ethnic Albanian refugees from the neighboring province of Kosovo was Albania's dominant event in 1999. By early June, more than 450,000 Kosovar Albanians were in the country, having been forcibly displaced by Serbian and Yugoslav forces during the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia.
Despite limited resources, the Albanian government made sincere efforts to accommodate the refugees, many of whom had suffered serious human rights violations inside Kosovo. Protection problems faced by the refugees were mostly related to the unsafe location and poor security of the camps in the north of the country; the general state of lawlessness in Albania; and the country's severe economic deprivation.
One positive consequence of the Kosovo crisis was the ameliorating effect it had on Albania's highly polarized political scene. The two main parties, the Democratic Party (DP) and the Socialist Party (SP), were less antagonistic in 1999, and politically motivated abuses were less common than in previous years. Despite this, Albanian citizens continued to experience many of the human rights violations that accompany states in transition from communism, such as politicized courts, abusive police, and abuses against women. As in previous years, victims of abuse rarely obtained redress through the legal system.
A high level of official corruption, pervasive at all levels of government, remained a critical problem. Corruption continued to have a negative impact on citizens' trust in the government and the rule of law. In September, Prime Minister Pandeli Majko issued an administrative order obliging all senior administration officials to declare their personal assets and state how they had been acquired.
The judicial system was a particular problem. With meager state salaries, judges and prosecutors were susceptible to bribes from wealthy and powerful criminal elements.
Women's rights also remained a serious concern, including the ongoing practice of trafficking. While there is no evidence of direct government involvement, the government has clearly been unable to stop trafficking, including of Kosovar Albanian women who were taken, some forcibly, from refugee camps by criminals and trafficked into prostitution in Italy. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported some cases of rape and sexual assault of Kosovar Albanian women in Albanian refugee camps. Domestic abuse also remained a serious but largely unmentioned issue in Albanian society. There were no state-run institutions to provide assistance for victims of domestic violence, who had to use Albania's small and underfunded nongovernmental organizations for shelter or counseling.
Despite the less belligerent political atmosphere, a remaining point of contention between Democrats and Socialists was the state's investigation into the September 1998 killing of Azem Hajdari, a former student activist and militant member of parliament for the opposition Democratic Party. Top DP officials, including former President Sali Berisha, refused to testify to investigators during 1999 because, they said, the investigation was politically motivated.
The government was also continuing to investigate the violent demonstrations that erupted two days later during Hajdari's funeral procession, when armed DP supporters ransacked government offices and, for a brief period, held the Prime Minister's office, the parliament building, and the Albanian state television and radio building, prompting the resignation of then-Prime Minister Fatos Nano. Parliament subsequently lifted Berisha's immunity due to his alleged role in what the government called a coup d'etat, but no charges were leveled against him in 1999. The trial of twelve people who were arrested for their alleged involvement in the violence was ongoing during the year. In October the defendants, including the chairman of the Legality Movement Party, staged a brief hunger strike to protest what they considered procedural violations by the court.
Local human rights groups and the political opposition complained about procedural violations in the legal case against six former government officials. The six men, including the former Minister of Defense and Minister of the Interior, were charged in August 1998 with crimes against humanity for their role in suppressing the popular uprising following the collapse of the pyramid schemes in March 1997. They were released from house arrest in February 1999 but had still not been tried as of this writing.
Despite these problems, Albania's slow process of legal reform continued throughout 1999. On November 22, 1998, a national referendum approved Albania's first complete post-communist constitution which is in conformity with international human rights standards. Until that time the country had operated under a motley collection of new laws and constitutional provisions.
On September 30, 1998, parliament passed a new law on public and private radio and television, the first complete law regulating the electronic media since the fall of the communist government in 1992. The law largely meets international standards, although some media experts complained that the Albanian state radio and television still had ownership of the transmitter network, which, they feared, would allow the government to interfere in the transmission of programs. Throughout 1999, a host of private radio and television stations were broadcasting, some of them in opposition to the government.
In February 1999, the parliament ratified a new law to create Albania's first national human rights ombudsman. As of September, however, no one had been appointed to the post. According to the law, the parliamentary commissions on human rights and legal matters must propose candidates, who are then approved by three-fifths of the parliament.
By September 1999, the Albanian government had still not abolished capital punishment, despite continued pressure from the Council of Europe, which Albania joined in 1995. No one has been executed in Albania since 1993, although six people were on death row in 1999. Those on death row were reportedly kept in inhuman conditions that fell far short of international standards. International monitors observed the inmates wearing helmets and said they were in shackles twenty-four hours a day.
Public order was a serious problem throughout the year, as it has been since 1997, with violent incidents occurring frequently, usually between the police and criminal gangs. Much of the mountainous north and parts of the south were not under the government's control, and crime was endemic. The smuggling of drugs and illegal immigrants, mostly to Italy, was pervasive.
Political violence was less of a problem in 1999 than it had been in previous years. However, on February 21, unknown individuals attacked the former judge and well-known defense attorney Kleanthi Koci, although the reason for the attack is not known. He died a few days later on route to Rome for medical treatment.
Albania's Roma population continued to be a target of racism and discrimination by the general population, sometimes resulting in physical violence. In May, the parliament agreed to ratify the European Framework Convention for the Protection of Minorities, which the government had already signed.
Defending Human Rights
Albania's burgeoning nongovernmental sector continued to expand during 1999. Dozens of groups worked on issues related to human rights, ranging from labor rights to domestic violence against women. None of them reported restrictions on their work by the government.
Many Albanian human rights groups worked intensively to assist the ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo, including by taking testimony about war crimes, either for publication or to provide to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Others provided counseling for victims of abuse.
The Role of the International Community
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
The OSCE maintained a large mission in Albania with field offices in various cities, engaged in monitoring human rights and media, provided technical assistance on draft legislation, and conducted other institution-building activities. Field offices near the border with Yugoslavia monitored refugee flows, as well as fighting between the Kosovo Liberation Army and Yugoslav forces.
Council of Europe
Albania came under fire from the Council of Europe (CoE) for maintaining the death penalty, despite a 1995 commitment to abolish it. The Parliamentary Assembly cautioned that any retreat from Albania's commitment to abolish the death penalty "would have serious consequences for Albania's membership in the Council of Europe." The Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visited Albania in December 1998, following up on its visit from the previous year. At this writing, Albania had not published either of the reports issued by the CPT.
Albania's handling of the refugee crisis and its cooperation with NATO garnered praise and economic assistance from the European Union (E.U.). In addition to its annual commitment of 100 million Euros, the E.U. pledged 62 million Euros in April to meet refugee related expenses, although only 40 million Euros (U.S. $42 million) were ultimately needed. In June, the E.U. took the lead in establishing the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, which provides a framework for economic development, democratization, and conflict prevention and resolution in the region. Participants in the pact, including Albania, reaffirmed their commitment to observe human rights in accordance with OSCE standards and the U.N. Charter. In 1999, the E.U. also informed the Albanian government that further E.U. support for legal reform in the country was preconditioned on the abolishment of the death penalty.
The United States government had close relations with the Albanian government throughout the year with Kosovo as the centerpiece of discussion. During his June visit to the country, President Clinton promised Albania that its generosity to the refugees and cooperation with NATO provided "an opportunity to deepen [its] partnership with NATO and [its] integration with Europe and the future prosperity that will bring." The U.S. government allocated an estimated $33 million in foreign aid to Albania in 1999, with the largest portions going to economic development and democracy building. In September, the State Department invited a group of moderate politicians from the political oppositionto visit Washington just before the Democratic Party was scheduled to have its party congress. Former President Sali Berisha was not among the invitees.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Albania maintained close relations throughout 1999 due to the Kosovo crisis. Already a member of the Partnership for Peace, Albania opened its airspace for NATO and allowed 8,000 NATO soldiers to be deployed in the country, both for humanitarian and military reasons. In April, the U.S. military deployed twenty-four Apache attack helicopters in Albania for potential use in Kosovo, but they were never put into military action, and one crashed while conducting exercises.
International Financial Institutions
The World Bank and International Monetary Fund provided supplemental loans for the government to deal better with the influx of refugees, and the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development committed substantial funds to Albania and neighboring countries as part of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe. In the first six months alone, the World Bank pledged U.S. $125 million in new credits to Albania.